Top 8 Things to See, Eat, & Do in Hanoi

Jan 22nd, 2018, 10:11 PM
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Top 8 Things to See, Eat, & Do in Hanoi

Vietnam retained a unique mix of Chinese and French and these characters were reflected in their food, lifestyle, and architecture. So, here I present the "top things to see, eat and do in Hanoi":

Wander in Hanoi´s Old Quarter and survive the insane traffic

Hanoi’s old quarter (a.k.a. the Hoàn Kiếm district) is the city’s top tourist hot spot, and business hub. Hotels, cafés, antique stores, boutiques, and markets are all hidden in between the narrow allies and old buildings. Buy an artsy poster, hunt for interesting old-fashioned toys, or just relax and have a sip of Vietnamese coffee during the day.
It might sound a bit crazy but insane traffic in Hanoi did put everyone´s road crossing skills to the test. Especially among main roads (let say around Hoàn Kiếm Lake) – Thousands of scooters, motorcycles, and car flood in from every direction like a school of fish and they don’t seem to end. Well, it could be intimidating for first-time travelers and you might stand on the sidewalks for hours if you let your fear overcomes you.
Here are some tips for crossing the streets in Vietnam:
  1. Observe and wait for the right moment. With one eye on the traffic, keep another in your surroundings. When you see a group of nearby locals take their first step, it would probably the moment you take off.
  2. Having said that, it would be wise to cross the road in groups. There’s always safety in numbers. Following a group of locals would at least increase your chances to be seen.
  3. Keep your pace steady. No need to run, and definitely don’t jump out like a deer on a highway (Obviously, it would surprise the oncoming drivers and make things worse). Walk slowly, the drivers would anticipate your position and adjust their drive paths accordingly.
  4. It is even more dangerous if you stop, walk backward or scream in horror in the middle of the road. Be cool, calm, collected and leave your prima donna inner self at home.
  5. I find it pretty useful for me to do a “parting the red sea” pose (holding both arms up by the side of the body) when I cross the roads. Maybe it helps to make the drivers notice me, or it just help me to put myself in a “Zen” mode and keep my pace. Anyway, it works like a charm every time!
Unwind in Hoàn Kiếm Lake and look for the giant turtle

Once I walked through the horrendous traffic from the Old Quarter. I sunk in the tranquility of the Hoàn Kiếm Lake, the focal point of Hanoi city. Although, technically, the lake is a “pond” of depth 1.2-meter. Legend has it, the Emperor Lê Lợi was given a magic sword, “Heavenly Will”, from the Dragon King, which led his victory to the China army in the Ming Dynasty. One day, when the Emperor was boating on the lake, a Golden Turtle, which is the servant of the Dragon King surfaced and reclaimed the sword. The Emperor renamed the lake “Hoàn Kiếm” afterward, meaning “returned sword”. There are reports of sightings of a giant turtle in the lake for the past years; While those sightings may not be true, there was a unique species of giant softshell turtle living in the lake (even called the Hoàn Kiếm turtle, but a group of scientists suggested they are actually the same as the Yangtze giant softshell turtle). Unfortunately, the last Hoàn Kiếm turtle in the lake passed away and Hoàn Kiếm turtle is considered extinct in 2016.
There is a small island in the lake, walk under the willow in the Ngoc Son Temple where you might learn all the interesting stories from the past and enjoy the comforting morning breeze.

Catch a water puppet show

Water puppetry is a tradition that dates back as far as 11th century when it originated in the villages of the Red River Delta area of northern Vietnam. In Vietnamese, it’s called Múa rối nước meaning “making puppets dance on water”. It might sound a bit “cheesy” and “touristy”, but well, it’s an art tradition that survived a thousand years while a small theatre next to Hoàn Kiếm Lake is still hosting the show about 4 times a day, from 4:10 pm t0 8 pm. Believe it or not, the Thang Long Water Puppet Theatre is in the Asia Book of Records as the longest running water puppetry performance and tickets might sold out in busy seasons. Buy the tickets before entering the Hoàn Kiếm Lake to avoid disappointment.
The show lasts about 50 minutes and it’s pretty much what you would expect. We caught the show at 5:20 pm and then it’s about time for dinner~

Ride a cyclo

After the puppet show, we had a quick change at the hotel and got ready for our dinner reservations. It could get quite hot and hectic visiting the attractions and wandering the Old Quarter in the afternoon. Everything seems to slow down in the early evening. To me, it was the best time to hop on a cyclo and travel through the streets in the city. When I was the cyclo I felt like all the noise were screened out, and I could enjoy the unique Hanoi scenery ran pass me at a slow pace.

Explore Vietnamese cuisine, yes, other than Phở

Generally, the “foodie” experience would be in one of the top things to do because the food is never out of style. First thing first, although it spells “Pho”, the well-known Vietnamese noodles is pronounced as “faar~”… or “farr~”, but definitely not “pho”. A nice Pho place could probably be found in every corner of the world nowadays.

We had dinner @ the Ngon Villa. The restaurant has a wide selection of North, Central, and South Vietnamese dishes and you know what – it’s all-you-can-eat! The choices (while these are my favorite) include spring rolls, soft shell crab paper rolls, pork belly, smoked beef in the clay pot, soft shell crab salad, southern sweet soup, and many more! Each dish is marked its origin, while North is a sophisticated mix of vegetable ingredients, Central has the distinctive flavor of spicy and sweet, and South offers a diversity of salty and sweet dishes.

Sit on mini stools by the streets at night and enjoy a Hanoi beer

If you still have space in your tummy after dinner, the streets in the Old Quarter comes alive at night with lots of street vendors, bars, and live music. But be aware of hygiene when eating street food. My advice - opt for vendors who already have customers. After the walk, just sit on one of those mini stools along the pavements, enjoy a Hanoi beer and snacks on a tiny table, listen to the music and have fun people-watching.
Although I was there on a Thursday night, the streets were crowded and filled with foreigners!

Admire historic monument where East meets West

Famous temples like Quán Thánh Temple and Tran Quoc Pagoda are located near the West Lake (Hồ T y), a bigger lake located in the north of the city. Chùa Một Cột, or “One Pillar Pagoda”, is a small temple next to the Ho Chi Minh Museum. The structure is a rebuilt iconic Buddhist temple, originally erected in 1049, designed to resemble a lotus blossom. The pagoda is the size of a niche with a Buddha statue, and next t the pagoda is the historic Perfume Temple, one of the Vietnam’s most iconic temples.
While Vietnam is heavily influenced by the Chinese traditional values, the country also retained a trace of French colonization. The Saint Joseph’s cathedral was built based on the design of Notre-dame (while there’s another “Notre-dame” in Ho Chi Minh City, the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica); and the Hanoi Opera House, is located in the city center, and it was modeled on the Palais Garnier in Paris. Today, their buildings are still considered to be the architectural landmarks of Hanoi.

Follow the footsteps of Ho Chi Minh and learn about the country’s past

Ho Chi Minh, was the iconic Vietnamese Communist revolutionary leader.Imagine the country would be so much different without him, and his name would basically pop up anywhere when you are looking into the country’s historic past. Saigon, the former Capital of the Republic of Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City to commemorate this important figure in the country. While his final resting place was actually in Hanoi at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. The Mausoleum is in the center of Ba Ding Square, and it is where he read the Declaration of Independence, establishing the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Mausoleum is open to the public.
The Presidential Palace is next on the right side of the Mausoleum, and the Ho Chi Minh Museum is on the left, which showcased exhibits that related to Ho Chi Minh.
If you are interested to learn more about the Vietnam War, visit the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. The “Maison Centrale” was built by French and the prison was used to capture political prisoners. One of the most memorable moment to me, was not the narrow and dark prison cells, but the almond tree. I was told that the almond tree (which is still growing in the backyard of the museum) linked with the prisoner’s lives deeply. Prisoners used almond bark and young leaves to cure dysentery and diarrhea, to clean wounds, ate almond nuts to improve health and made penholders, pipes, or even flutes with the branches. It is also a place where prisoners could discuss tactics or plots on fighting against the enemy’s severe confinement and barbarous repression.

Last edited by moderator8; Feb 13th, 2018 at 06:51 AM. Reason: delete blog redirection
knycx_journeying is offline  
Jan 22nd, 2018, 10:38 PM
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Thanks for the write up. I see some things we need to check out on a return trip to Hanoi, probably our favourite city anywhere.

I might add Bun Cha as a uniquely northern dish not to miss (vegetarians excepted). Grilled pork two ways with rice noodles. Delicious and so many versions available.
CounterClifton is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2018, 09:38 PM
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Originally Posted by CounterClifton View Post
Thanks for the write up. I see some things we need to check out on a return trip to Hanoi, probably our favourite city anywhere.

I might add Bun Cha as a uniquely northern dish not to miss (vegetarians excepted). Grilled pork two ways with rice noodles. Delicious and so many versions available.
That's great to know Bun Cha and I agree, I remembered the train passing through narrow passage in between buildings was an amazing sight as well! @ knycx.journeying
knycx_journeying is offline  
Jan 23rd, 2018, 11:57 PM
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Personally, street foods in Hanoi are more impressed and delicious than foods in restaurants, therefore, if you have chance to visit Vietnam, don't forget to enjoy them
Suetran is offline  
Jan 24th, 2018, 12:24 AM
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Well, about the cuisine, you can try so many street food. I'd love to take porridge (cháo) in Hanoi. It's so good.
krystlee_1101 is offline  
Jan 26th, 2018, 05:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Suetran View Post
Personally, street foods in Hanoi are more impressed and delicious than foods in restaurants, therefore, if you have chance to visit Vietnam, don't forget to enjoy them
I agree, street food is always more surprising and delightful!
knycx_journeying is offline  
Jan 29th, 2018, 10:28 PM
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Originally Posted by clindsey View Post
Wonderful read. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks you ~ Glad you enjoyed it
knycx_journeying is offline  
Feb 2nd, 2018, 12:59 AM
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Hanoi is a great city to visit. This city has a lot of beautiful landscape and is also a good choice for those who're fond of culture, history and food.
delbertlynd is offline  
Mar 12th, 2018, 10:44 PM
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Don't forget about Ha Long Bay, too! You may visit my blog for more information about this place
knycx_journeying is offline  
Apr 4th, 2018, 08:38 PM
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I have been to Hanoi - the 1000-year-old capital of Vietnam. I also did everything on your list except for visiting Tran Quoc pagoda and Quan Thanh temple. Ohhh I have to admit that "Phở" is my favorite mouthwatering food, the water and noodle are so great!
However, I still don't see Vietnamese coffee culture on your list. It's amazing to sip some coffee and see how the world is going on.
jennifer3107 is offline  
Apr 16th, 2018, 06:57 PM
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Thanks, Jennifer and glad that you like Pho~ !!!
hmmm, well, personally, I like coffee, but I don't like Vietnamese Coffeeeee that much I have tasted better everywhere else.
But, yes, Vietnamese Coffee do have their own signature.
knycx_journeying is offline  
Apr 21st, 2018, 08:16 AM
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Following for future travels. Thanks!
jlee is offline  
Aug 8th, 2018, 07:35 PM
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Sept/ Oct is a good time for Hanoi => Rice terraces!
DinHo is offline  
Sep 8th, 2018, 11:43 PM
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Talk about Hanoi, it should be some highlights as:

Eating: Street Food (Phở; Bún Chả,…); Vietnamese beer and coffee

Watching: Water Puppet show

Taking: Cycling around Hanoi Old Quarter; Night market; Cooking class

Visiting: Quan Thanh Temple; Hoan Kiem Lake; Bat Trang village; Ethnic Museum
perladawnsails is offline  
Sep 24th, 2018, 11:59 PM
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Dont foget to walk on the West Lake. It is really nice.
cindyhuang9x is offline  
Oct 10th, 2018, 12:18 AM
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Do we need a tour guide to visit the places you mentioned in Hanoi
roryshaw is offline  
Oct 10th, 2018, 08:09 AM
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We did not use a tour guide in Hanoi. We found it easy to do on our own. Do be cautious about taxis - our hotel recommend particular kinds of taxis to use, and indeed, it made a big difference. While all of the taxis used the meter, some taxis had meters that ran twice as fast as normal - beware!
Kathie is offline  
Oct 10th, 2018, 07:02 PM
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If you want to do it by yourself, you don't need to book a tour guide in Hanoi. It is easy and fun to walk around Hoan Kiem Lake/ Hanoi Old Quater for street food or night market. For others like taking cycling, booking Water puppet show, you should ask your hotel for the ticket.
Or very simple, book a Hanoi day tour for full service.
perladawnsails is offline  
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